Good news for the Philippine environment and eco-warriors everywhere!
A small public high school in Dagupan City was named the third top finalist in the new US$250,000 (yes, that’s in dollars) World’s Best School Prize for Environmental Action.
Bonuan Boquig National High School (BBNHS) helped restore lost mangrove forests in their area to reverse the environmental devastation economically affecting their students who “mostly live near fish ponds and coastal areas,” the event organizers said.
The school’s initiatives
Dagupan City has long been vulnerable to floods because its land is only about one meter above sea level.
After Typhoon Pepeng in 2009 left two-thirds of the city submerged in seawater, the city government began dredging rivers to reverse the flood’s impact, but this caused the death of the mangroves in the area.
The loss of the mangrove forests exposed rivers to the “direct heat of the sun,” damaging the ecosystem and resulting in the dying off of aquatic life, including fish, crabs, and shellfish.
This chain of events proved devastating for the area’s economy, which relies heavily on fishing. With the livelihoods of many families destroyed, some of the students of BBNHS had to stop studying to work and help support their families.
Sometime after this, the school, with over 100 volunteers, planted thousands of mangrove propagules for several years along the Longos riverbanks to provide new habitats for fish.
The mangrove forests they tend to are now close to complete rehabilitation and stabilization.
The school also conducted an International Coastal Cleanup in 2014 to clean the shores of Bonuan Beach.
The garbage collected was further sorted into biodegradable and non-biodegradable materials. Recyclable materials were turned into useful items such as garden pots and decorations. In another initiative, the school planted trees to rehabilitate a local dump site.
What is the prize?
There are five World’s Best School Prizes – for Community Collaboration, Environmental Action, Innovation, Overcoming Adversity, and Supporting Healthy Lives.
Founded by T4 Education, the prize is sponsored by large corporate donors from all over the world. It is meant to share the best practices of schools that conduct humanitarian and environmental initiatives that benefit their community, and celebrate their students and teachers.
BBNHS is the only Philippine school among the 10 shortlisted finalists.
They and the other finalist schools will share their best practices at events during World Education Week and through School Transformation Toolkits that provide their step-by-step instructions on their strategies and implementation methods.
Public voting ended last October 3. The winners will be announced on October 19, 2022 at World Education Week.
A US$250,000 overall prize will be shared among the five winners, each to receive US$50,000.
If BBNHS wins, they will use the money to “build a nursery that could house around 50,000 mangrove seedlings a year and push much-needed research to improve the techniques and technology on mangrove propagation and preservation.”
Why are mangroves important?
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of the work BBNHS is doing.
According to the World Bank, “mangrove forests can provide real benefits in risk reduction to people and property” because they help prevent soil erosion, reduce the risk of flooding and erosion, and “support livelihoods and reduce social vulnerability by providing resources such as fish.”
As an archipelago, the Philippines is extremely vulnerable to flood damage from typhoons and extreme weather events because of its location.
“Typhoon Haiyan [Ondoy] alone caused more than 6,000 deaths and over US $2 billion in damages,” wrote the WB.
“Between 2005 to 2015, 56 percent of property damage in the Philippines was due to typhoons and storms, and another 29% due to floods.
These impacts underlie why decision-makers are looking for effective and cost-effective approaches for flood risk reduction.”
However, mangrove forests are being depleted “at alarming rates,” with 19 percent of all the “world’s mangroves lost between 1980 [and] 2005. In the Philippines, mangrove loss has occurred primarily due to conversion of land to other uses, including aquaculture and development.”
Bonuan Boquig NHS, its students, faculty, parents, and volunteers deserve kudos for the work they are doing to preserve our environment.
With the effects of climate change creating more damage as time goes on, the school is a good example to others to “bloom where they are planted.” They are an inspiration.
So let us look at what surrounds us wherever we happen to be, identify the problems affecting public safety and welfare, and come up with solutions that will provide tangible effects and benefits for our communities.
(Dr. Ortuoste is a board member of the Philippine Center for International PEN and a member of the Manila Critics Circle, founder of the National Book Awards. FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO)